Image: President Obama Meets With France's President Sarkozy
Alex Wong  /  Getty Images
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and U.S. President Barack Obama hold a joint press conference in the East Room of the White House on Tuesday.
updated 3/30/2010 5:41:58 PM ET 2010-03-30T21:41:58

At the side of his French ally, President Barack Obama said Tuesday that the world is "more united than ever" on the need to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state.

"On this the United States and France are united," Obama said, opening a joint appearance before reporters that capped White House meetings with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. "Today, the international community is more united than ever on the need for Iran to uphold its obligations."

The United States is working with France and other allies to develop a new, tougher round of sanctions against Iran, which they accuse of continuing uranium enrichment in defiance of United Nations demands. Tehran says it seeks only nuclear power, not weapons.

Obama said he wants to see U.N. sanctions in place against Iran within weeks.

Condemning Israeli settlements
During the press conference, Sarkozy also joined Obama in condemning Israeli settlement activity in east Jerusalem.

Sarkozy said his own commitment to Israel's security was well known, but added that the settlement activity in an area claimed by the Palestinians "contributes nothing."

Sarkozy praised Obama for trying to engage the two sides in peace talks. Sarkozy said the "absence of peace" in the region "is a problem for all of us" — and that it feeds terrorism around the world.

In earlier developments, Obama, Sarkozy and French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde visited the Capitol for talks about climate change and other issues with Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. After the session with Kerry, Sarkozy said he would push for "very, very hard sanctions" against Iran.

The French leader also met with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

In between affairs of state Sarkozy and his wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, lunched at Ben's Chili Bowl, a no-frills urban diner that has become a Washington institution.

The Sarkozys were scheduled to join Obama and his wife, Michelle, for a private dinner in the White House. The French presidential palace called the diner a first-of-its-kind invite and a sign of esteem for America's oldest ally.

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No holds-barred speech
In a no-holds-barred speech at Columbia University on Monday, Sarkozy criticized the U.S. health care system and scolded the U.S. for not listening closely enough to what the rest of the world has to say.

But underlying the criticism was a clear respect for American dynamism and openness, and admiration for Obama. Sarkozy has hosted Obama twice in France, though Tuesday marks his first White House visit.

"You are very loved in the world but we expect a lot of you," Sarkozy said Monday to his largely American audience. "In Europe, we are your friends. In Europe, we admire you. You don't have to worry about that."

Obama, Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Korean President Lee Myung-bak sent a joint letter to the other leaders of the G-20 group of leading world economies urging them to firm up new global financial rules and stick to pledges for better coordination made at the Group of 20 summit in Pittsburgh last year. The letter was released by Sarkozy's office Tuesday.

Will Sarkozy risk unpopular decision?
Whether or not they agree on troop levels in Afghanistan, Obama and Sarkozy are of a mind on wanting new sanctions against Iran for its nuclear activities, resuming Mideast peace talks, and better regulating the U.S. financial system.

France has about 3,750 troops and trainers in Afghanistan, but Sarkozy resisted calls by Obama last year to send many more. Some other NATO allies have also been cautious, even as the U.S. is deploying 30,000 more troops to try to reverse gains made by the Taliban.

Two Western diplomats said Obama will ask Sarkozy for more military or police trainers. They spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions are private.

French trainers have been among those killed in Afghanistan this year, and polls show most French voters don't see the point.

"It is not easy to explain that French people are dying in Afghanistan," Sarkozy said.

A French diplomat said France would make its decision based on what the generals on the ground say is needed, not on political expediency. That diplomat was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Sarkozy may not risk an unpopular decision with his own popularity at record lows, and with his conservative party suffering from fractures and badly beaten in recent regional elections.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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